coping with the lack of culture shock

in many, many ways, my culture shock/reverse culture shock associated with my trip to the Czech Republic were significantly less consuming or debilitating than what I experienced last year with Ireland.

I find this both fascinating and surprisingly unsurprising. my trip to the Czech Republic was wonderful and relaxing and everything I could have possibly hoped for from the trip and from traveling in general. I met some great people, saw some amazing sights, was generally amazed at how easy it was to get anywhere that I wanted to get (barring the one exception that didn’t turn out so bad in the end), had some spectacular experiences, and very easily could have fallen in love with the country.

but I didn’t. and I’m totally ok with that.

I met many, many people who fell in love with the country and decided to stay, or came back at the first opportunity and I can absolutely understand the attraction. if I were in a different place in my life I can see how I might end up in a similar position. but when it comes down to it, I didn’t have the same intense connection to the history of the places I visited that I did during my three weeks in Ireland. one might argue the tradition of hospitality in Ireland has something to do with my preference for it over the Czech Republic, but I’m not sure my experiences bear that observation out. I had perhaps more ambivalent/neutral hospitality experiences in Ireland than in the Czech Republic. could have been the places I stayed — less conducive to making random friends, or my own anxiety about venturing out on my own in a city that I didn’t know. but perhaps my own understanding of Irish history, as well as how it dovetailed with that of English history, made the historical perspective more intimate to me. as I’ve said before (and will probably say again), my knowledge of Czech history is still limited.

the more I developed a tactile relationship with Irish history, by visiting sites of historical significance, the harder it became for me to reconcile my affinity for English history and culture with the hardships the Empire imposed on it’s closest colony. (am I repeating myself?) it was very hard for me to reconcile these two profound affinities and, eventually, I gave up and tried to disassociate one from the other, to embrace each while ignoring the implications of the other. (there was a rough patch after my trip where I was struggling to reconcile and/or accept all of this). for good or for ill, the Czech Republic did not elicit such strong emotions. there weren’t courses on Czech history in my high school or college; it was only a peripheral mention in comparative politics classes that addressed the Cold War or U.S.S.R., if it came up at all.

and, consequently, there was less baggage available to tag along on my trip to the Czech Republic, fewer layers of complexity, fewer points for affection or contention. more opportunity to simply observe, appreciate, and let go of the unique places and cultural experiences I encountered in the Czech Republic. it was easier to disentangle my sense of self from the way I interacted with Czech culture. and, so, the culture shock was less dramatic in both directions.

I’m not sure yet whether or not I’m glad for those muted reactions.

Piazza San Pietro

five years ago this month, I submitted to an insatiable case of travel bug and headed to Italy to visit my college roommate, Stephanie, over Spring Break. I’d returned from London to the comparative claustrophobia and mid-America suffocation of Knox and Galesburg in January and suffice it to say the transition back was difficult. as anyone who went to Knox (or endured a quarter- or term-style academic year) well knows, Winter Term is a tunnel of academic stress, personal horrors, and underexposure daylight only vaguely insinuated by winter months in the Real World. to help mitigate the heightened misery of my 2005 Winter Term, I booked a flight to Rome, installed iTunes on my computer and put Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and Maroon 5’s “Must Get Out” on repeat. I spent the next ten weeks confusing my Latinate-language tenses (somehow thinking that I wouldn’t get confused by taking Spanish 101 and 300-level course on France during the Vichy regime … Tim Foster would tell you otherwise) and giddily imagining all the nauseatingly historic places I could see in Rome and Florence with a Classics major.
first stop on the itinerary my first full day in Italy (as Stephanie had class the day following my arrival): the Basilica di San Pietro. my sister took the night train down from Vienna (where she was spending the semester with Earlham’s choir program) to join me for a couple of days, and the pair of us were up early to tromp down the hill to Vatican City and check out San Pietro and the Musei Vaticani before lines got out of hand. climbed to the top of the dome and were rewarded with spectacular views across the Tiber to the east (pictured above), as well as north, south (from whence we’d traveled), and west.
a week or so after Kate and I stood atop the dome, Stephanie and her friend Rachel sat in the folding chairs set up in the Piazza to hear Pope John Paul II give his final Easter address (27 March — he died 2 April).